Simple low waste kitchen hacks

I often hear people talk about a zero waste kitchen. For most of us (unless we grow a majority of the food we eat in our own backyard) this is something that’s quite difficult to achieve.

For quite a few years, I have actively looked at where I can waste less and be smarter with how I shop for groceries and store my food. In the current global pandemic (it’s July 2020 as I write this), I’ve found it’s much harder to access food markets and some of the places I used to buy bigger bulk items from, but I’m still doing my best to reduce the amount of plastic bags and packaging that comes into my home.

Here are my top 5 favourite tips of how to reduce waste and plastic in your kitchen!

  1. Bring your own shopping bags. Goes without saying that bringing our own bags to the shops (not just the grocery store!) is a great first step. I always have a few canvas bags in the car, but I also keep a small fold up bag in my handbag and another one in my gym bag. That way I always have a bag with me for groceries and other shopping so I can say ‘no thank you‘ to any unnecessary plastic.
  2. Reusable produce bags. I bought similar bags to these ones about 4 years ago and I use them every single week. If they get dirty, I just wash them in hot soapy water, they dry very quickly. If you don’t want to pay money to buy something similar, it’s super easy to make your own produce bags using old t-shirts, pillowcases or pretty much any type of fabric you have laying around your house.
  3. Bees wax wraps and reusable silicone bags. I have found that bees wax wraps are great for that half of an avocado, onion, tomato or other thing you need to wrap up and use later. I have bought most of my bees wax wraps at local markets over the years, but you can of course buy them online or even google how to make your own. I wash mine out in lukewarm or cold water and sometimes it’s good to use a sponge or gentle scrubber to get any stubborn food stains off. Instead of ziplock bags, I bought reusable silicone bags a few months ago and absolutely love them! They store things really well in both the fridge and the freezer and wash our really easily with warm soapy water. They have also worked really well as sandwich bags on a few hikes.
  4. Food storage containers and glass jars. As an avid meal-prepper, I have a bunch of different types and sizes of food storage containers on hand. Glass jars from your old pasta sauce or mustard can easily be washed out and used for storing salad dressings, soup and a bunch of other things.

    Over the past few years I have gradually started replacing my plastic food storage containers with glass tub versions. You can pick these up online or at your nearest well Kmart or similar. I do still use my old plastic containers for storing food in, I just make sure to not reheat the plastic tubs in the microwave, but rather put the leftovers on a plate for reheating. It makes me a bit sad when people throw all their perfectly good storage containers in the trash just because they happen to be made of plastic. Reducing your plastic waste is a great intention, but where do you think most of those plastic tubs you threw out actually end up? In landfill waste. So rather than throwing things out and creating more short term waste, use the items responsibly until they break and then replace them!
  5. Wash out and reuse ziplock type plastic bags. A very simple hack that saves both money and plastic waste. If I use ziplock bags (which is rare), I make sure to wash them out with hot soapy water, let them dry out and then use them again. If you buy frozen berries or fruit, they often come in sturdy resealable bags which you can easily wash out and use again. For any plastic bags that are torn and can’t be washed and reused, I make sure to recycle them.

I think zero waste is a great intention, but for most of us it’s very hard to achieve it. Rather than thinking we have to be perfect or not try at all, I welcome you to join me and do your best to reduce the waste that’s generated from your kitchen and household. I believe in progress over perfection and hopefully that’s something that can help you too!

Declutter Challenge Check In

I hope you’re doing as well as you can during this challenging time. I have definitely struggled with motivation when it feels like the days just blend into each other.

As we’re forced to stay home a lot more that we are used to, I know quite a few of you are using this time to sort through things and organise your space to work better for you. If you want a declutter checklist and template you can check out my last declutter blog post here.

I find that going through decluttering always triggers a few things for most people, such as:

  1. I don’t have time to finish a whole area in one go“. For some people this can cause them to beat themselves up for “not being organised enough”. This is not particularly helpful, so if this is how you feel right now, remember that getting started with something and taking your time to complete it fully (in steps if you need to) is not failure, but progress!
  2. I need to change the order of the declutter areas“. No sweat my friend, that’s why you have the checklist. Swap the order around however you like, but make sure you track your progress and tick things off that list!
  3. How much of my stuff should I declutter in the first round?” It’s totally up to you. I always recommend to start with what seems reasonable for you and then come back and declutter again in 3-6 months time. In this weeks video I share some of my most recent wardrobe declutter (just before Covid19 shutdown). It’s amazing to me that I still get rid of things every few months after actively decluttering regularly for a few years.
  4. How to dispose responsibly of things during Covid19 times? As I write this in early May 2020, it’s a bit difficult as charity shops are closed and selling/swapping/donating things to others is not encouraged. Of course there are still a lot of things you can get rid of that is either recycling or trash. For anything else, simply just box/bag it (make sure to label it!) and come back to sell/donate it once the current situation passes. It’s good to have a spot in your storage/garage or similar to gather these things so you know exactly where they are when you can get rid of them.

I know it’s not easy to spend this much time at home, but I’m choosing to see it as a valuable pause and chance to continue to make my home more welcoming and nurturing. Having space and harmony in your home is probably more valuable now than ever.

Minimalism in lockdown

How are you tracking with the changing world around us right now? It’s a strange time where lots of people struggle emotionally and financially. I’ve certainly had days where I feel super low, and I think it’s important to remember what it’s ok to feel sad, stressed, angry or any other feeling that comes up when so many things are out of our control.

If you or someone you know need extra support and you don’t know where to start, I’ve listed a few amazing resources in the bottom of this blog post for completely free and confidential support. If you’re not in Australia, just google what support services are available where you live. There is so much free and confidential support available!

On a lighter note, I actually have a positive life update from my end to share. After being in between jobs since October 2019, I finally found a full time job in marketing for an organisation that is so aligned with my values. I interviewed with them just before Covid19 closed down my part of Australia, and have been working from home since I started the role 2 weeks ago. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity at a time when the global economy is all ver the place and many companies are not recruiting.

So then, how are we coping with 2 people (both working full time from home) and 2 pets in a small 2 bedroom apartment?

  • It’s been a bit tight on space to create 2 work stations that work for us! For now we’re splitting our time between the living room (improvised stand up desk at the kitchen island) and the dedicated home office. I will do a full apartment tour at a later time, but if you want to see some snippets from our home you can check out my decluttering video.
  • We’ve found it more important than ever to have clear surfaces and putting things away. We’re usually pretty organised, but we’ve had to make sure that everything has a home. When we finish the work day we move all our work related items (extra screen, keyboard, laptop) go into the study and the living room is clear to hang out and relax.
  • I have not missed a single thing I’ve gotten rid of. As I’ve decluttered over the past few years, I used to ask myself “What if I miss this item later?“. Turns out I should not have worried, because even in the current lockdown situation I can’t think of a single thing (clothes, books, tech, kitchen items) I wish I had kept. When I asked Paul, he admitted to missing a few warmer jumpers he decluttered (we’re heading towards winter in Melbourne now). To me it just goes to show that a clear space helps my well being so much more than having lots of things.
  • Overall, we’re loving our small space and especially the balcony. We’re finding ways of being creative and repurposing furniture pieces and storage. Don’t get me wrong, I wish we could go out and enjoy things we used to have access to, but we’re choosing to make the most of what the current situation means.

Helpful resources if you need emotional support (some of these have both apps and chat functions as well as a free number you can call):

  • Lifeline (Australia): call 13 11 14 in Australia or chat/text with them via their website.
  • Beyond Blue (Australia): call 1300 22 4636 or chat with them via their website.
  • Insight Timer: my personal favourite free meditation app that holds a range of music and meditations to calm your mind.

Looking after our mental health and speaking to someone who can listen and support is key, it’s actually a true strength to admit we need help (in a big or small way). I’m not sponsored by any of these resources/organisations, but wanted to share them for anyone needing extra support at this time.

I hope you look after yourself and work through this time focusing on the things you are able to influence, like your home space, time, food and exercise.

A minimalist stockpile?

Can a minimalist have a stockpile of food or things? If so, how big is it allowed to be?

It’s late March 2020 as I write this and Covid-19 is impacting us globally. Needless to say it’s a disruptive and difficult time for many people, and I wanted to share how simplicity and minimalism has helped my partner and I stay focused before all this unfolded and manage the situation so far. And in case anyone is wondering, we still had a few spare rolls of toilet paper in the house when the crazy hoarding behaviours hit the supermarkets a few weeks ago… 🙂

We’re only 2 people and 2 fur kids in our house, so I appreciate our situation is different to many others who might have big families, but I wanted to share my approach on how I’ve always thought (way before global virus situation) about staple foods, shopping and budgeting.

In this video I cover 2 of the key themes I use to plan and live as simply as possible (I’ll go into them in a bit more detail below:

  1. Plan and buy the things you use often.
  2. Learn to improvise! (multi purpose tools/items, food and recipes – you name it!)

I would consider myself a minimalist to some extent, but I don’t believe this means that you can’t buy relevant things in bulk to save money, time and energy. Not to mention lower environmental impact with less packaging and fewer trips to the shops.

  1. Meal plan and know the things you often buy. Like most people we try and eat healthy, and therefore our weekly shopping list tends to include mostly the same things. Fresh or frozen veggies (as a side note, I would struggle to live without avocado!), eggs, salad, a few canned goods, almond milk, meat and/or tofu. Knowing your basic ingredients/recipes well also means you can vary them as necessary if it’s hard to get hold of certain items during a specific time/season.
  2. Make sure you never run out of all items in one category at the same time. For example, we always buy ahead to ensure we never run out of sweet potato, rice and pasta at the same time. If we’re low on one, we’ll substitute with something else from the same category. Same goes for protein and veggies.
  3. Buy one extra or a bigger pack of things you use all the time. This makes good budget and eco sense (big pack means less packaging in the long run), and I do this for canned goods, pasta/rice, hygiene items (yes, including toilet paper) and frozen foods. In our case, we try hard to only grocery shop once a week (I’ll talk more about this in my upcoming meal planning video) and we only have one large drawer for our pantry and a fairly small apartment size fridge/freezer, so it’s a bit of a Tetris game on shopping day! Freezing soup/sauces/meat/chicken and other things flat in portion size (reusable) bags also helps reduce packaging and fit more in the freezer.
  4. If your favourite brand/food is on sale, buy one extra (not 10!). Somewhat related to the above point, but I only do this for things I know I will use, and I never buy more than one or a big family pack if it’s a product/food/drink I’ve never tried before. It’s often a waste of money and because you bought it, you’ll either feel the need to use/eat it even if you don’t like it OR shove it in the back of the cupboards and end up having to throw it out later (when it’s expired).
  5. I’m always so grateful for what I have. Not a planning tool, but it’s really helped me over the past few weeks. There was a time in my life when money was extremely tight, but I still managed and I have since then always been grateful to have food on the table, be healthy and have beautiful and supportive friends and family in my life. Nurturing a mindset of ‘I have enough/more than I need‘ helps both our mental health and our ability to stick through tough times without giving in to fear and panic.
  6. Learn to improvise! As a student I learned to make up random food dishes with whatever I had in the fridge and pantry. I’m by no means a chef, but I like the challenge of improvising new meals from the basic foods I most often have on hand. Also remember that a well stocked spice cabinet can really improve the blandest of things. If you need help improvising food from a small pantry, YouTube or Google is your friend.

As a side note, before crazy virus times, we also started keeping some basic backup food items and a fresh water jug in the house, just in case we’d get sick, have a power outage or something else unexpected happened. I’m not talking about surviving for 6 months without going out, but rather an extra weeks’ worth of food for us and the pets if we were ever in a pinch. Much like the financial emergency fund I talked about in a previous post, this is a very simple thing for peace of mind and resilience in unexpected and difficult times.

Simplicity and minimalism has helped me realise that it’s not about having as few things as possible. It’s not a competition! It’s about making space for the items and routines that help make our lives easier and remove the things and people that cause clutter and noise.

I hope you stay safe during these strange times and physically stay away from other people whenever possible. Thank goodness we live in a time where people are only a phone call or video chat away!

The 7 step declutter challenge

Know all about how to sustainably declutter from my previous post? Awesome, now let’s go! This challenge is great regardless how messy your space is, it’s really up to you how far you want to go with your decluttering right now. Remember: any progress you make is better than it was before!

This decluttering method is one that I have used many times and it can be done over 7 days straight (one are per day) depending on the size of your space and clutter. 🙂 It can also be divided up over a few weeks/weekends if you prefer. The key thing is to tackle one area at a time to sort through and remove the things you don’t want to keep, before you start with the next area. Yes, of course it’s OK to still be selling/donating some things from the first area as you start with the second one, but a key part of the momentum with this challenge is to work in sections.

What I’ve found works best for me is to to start with a fairly ‘easy’ room/area (like the bathroom) to gain some positive momentum. I would then recommend to move onto a bigger area where you can really see the difference (like the kitchen) even if there are a fair few areas to cover within the kitchen itself (cabinets, fridge, freezer and pantry).

You can see the full 7 step challenge below! This method and the room/areas it covers reflects how my home is organised, but if you want to change some of the categories to better suit your home, feel free to change it up.

Access your free printable declutter checklist via this link. You can also email me with any declutter questions via simpleessentialsnow@gmail.com.

  • Day 1: Bathroom. Hair dryers/straighteners/curlers/shavers, makeup, towels, bathroom products, haircare products, any cleaning supplies you keep here, brushes/combs, skincare.
  • Day 2: Kitchen. Pantry, kitchenware, bulk food storage (even if you keep this elsewhere in the house) appliances, fridge, freezer (including fridges/freezers kept outside of the kitchen), junk/stuff drawer, cutlery, utensils, cleaning supplies.
  • Day 3: Wardrobe. All your clothes including shoes, jackets, accessories, belts, bags, seasonal clothing.
  • Day 4: Bedroom(s). Bedside table(s), book shelves, junk/stuff drawer, photos/art on wall, candles, plants, under bed storage, dressers that don’t hold clothes.
  • Day 5: Study/desk area. Important papers, sentimental items/papers/cards, pens, notepads, receipts, cables, electronics, batteries, decor.
  • Day 6: Living room. Books, furniture, dvd’s, games, candles, records, tech gadgets, magazines, photos/art on wall, decor, cushions and blankets.
  • Day 7: Storage or garage. Camping gear, tools, sporting equipment, extra blankets and pillows, linen closet/storage, broom closet/laundry/cleaning supplies, paint, seasonal decor.
  • Optional Day 8: Kids room/playroom. Clothes, toys, art & craft supplies, games, furniture.

How do I know what to get rid of? Here are some simple reminders that always helps me:

  • Some decluttering techniques will talk about things like “Does this item spark joy?” or “Do I love this item?“. Those questions sometimes works for me (especially with clothes), but more often I ask myself “Is this useful/practical?“. I don’t know about you, but my sandwich toaster/rain coat/ fruit bowl does not spark joy for me. They are pretty useful on a regular basis in my life though.
  • When was the last time I used this? A key question to ask, and generally speaking I get rid of anything I have not used for more than 12 months. That way I’ve gone through a whole year and all seasons before I decide to get rid of something.
  • Am I holding onto this because it was expensive? We all make shopping mistakes in our past, or get gifted expensive items that we feel the need to hold onto because they were expensive. Sell it or donate it and let it go. It’s not worth holding onto things that you don’t enjoy or find useful.
  • What about sentimental items? I’ll cover this in a future video, but for the purpose of getting on with your decluttering challenge I would recommend you to group all your sentimental items together and go through them separately outside of this challenge. If you want to get started in this round, you may be able to scan/take photos of some of the items and then let them go.

Decluttering is a powerful life tool in so many ways. It reminds you of what you have and what you might need to upgrade. It confronts you with your past and current shopping habits. It helps you pass things onto someone else that needs it more than you. The physical transformation when you declutter will give you lots of mental health benefits as well. When things have a ‘home’ you don’t waste time finding things. You’ll also find that you argue with/nag your loved ones less when there is little mess to deal with.

Also remember that decluttering is not at all about perfection or ‘getting it right’. It’s about welcoming simplicity on your life and making space for more engaging things than wading through the clutter to find things. It’s a gradual process and I tend to come back to each area/room every 3-6 months and go through it again. Because no matter how hard we try, things will find their way into our home and we need to learn to consciously decide what we want to keep and not.

How to declutter sustainably

It’s February 2020 as I write this, and I keep noticing that people are still working on kicking off the year well. Let’s face it, January is a bit of a ‘soft start’ month, but February is when the rubber really hits the road, right! A big part of that kick off and positive energy is decluttering your space/home and getting rid of things that no longer serve you. If you’re keen to declutter your life, I’d welcome you to join my simple 7 step declutter challenge, which I’ll share in the next blog post.

I’m a BIG fan of decluttering, but I have noticed in a range of videos and posts online where many people seem to throw most of the stuff they don’t want straight in the trash. I’m sure a lot of people do the right thing and sell, donate and recycle things behind the scenes. But if most of the declutter goes straight in the trash, this breaks my heart a little, because it’s both wasteful and irresponsible.

I know that in the past I have definitely thrown things in the trash that should probably not have gone there, and over the past few years I’ve promised myself to do my bit in reducing my footprint on this planet. My philosophy is that we are just as responsible for HOW and WHERE we get rid of things as we are for bringing those things into our life and home in the first place.

It can be frustrating, because most of us prefer things to happen instantly (once we have decided to declutter something, we want it done and out of our house ASAP). That’s why it can be so helpful to approach decluttering with a bit of a method to tackle one area or room at a time. This way we have time and space to do it properly and sell, donate and throw away anything that we no longer use. You may want to use a specific method (Konmari is a popular one), or you might be like me and prefer to tackle one physical area at a time, rather than going by category. In my next video and blog post I’ll share the 7 step declutter method I tend to use and welcome you to join me on the challenge if you’d like to!

First I wanted to cover a few very important ground rules before you get started on your sustainable decluttering:

  1. Have a ‘declutter zone’ for the things you’ll be clearing out
    With a dedicated space before you start, the declutter is a lot easier to manage. I can assure you that you’ll get a bit overwhelmed otherwise! A garage, storage room, corner of a spare room or similar is ideal if you have a lot to go through. I would recommend you don’t keep things (except the things you’re selling) for more than a week, otherwise you’ve just moved the clutter from one room to another. My partner and I have decluttered a lot over the past few years, so nowadays we normally just have a small bag or box in our closet where things go for donations and one shelf for things to sell.

  2. Think repurpose!
    Often when I have decluttered one area I find great use for a storage bin, container or lamp in another room. This is why you have your dedicated space to put the things in, sometimes it helps to take the item out of its first space to see how useful or pretty it could be somewhere else.

    Now a word of warning here if you like the idea of DIY projects and repurposing an object (like painting a picture frame or something). Only keep these things/projects if you know for 100% sure you’ll get around to doing them in the near future. Otherwise you’re just holding onto clutter and wishful thinking. Be honest with yourself and be OK with getting rid of things that you know you’ll never get to repurposing.

  3. Sell things that are in good condition!
    Selling things might take time, but you’d be surprised how much you can get for an item that you no longer use. I’ve had great success with Facebook marketplace, eBay, gumtree.com.au (or similar pages if you’re not in Australia) where people have collected the item same day and I’ve got some of the money back that I originally paid for the item (#winwin).
    This also goes for things you list for free collection (we did this with our old printer/scanner) to get someone to come and take something for free that you can’t sell.

    I’d recommend if you’ve got a lot of things to sell, only list 2-3 things at a time so you don’t overwhelm yourself dealing with people asking questions about the item. Local buy/swap/sell Facebook groups or noticeboards can also be a good thing to check out to get rid of things that still have value.

  4. Give to friends and family.
    If you have clothes, makeup, shoes, toys, books, bedding, towels, movies, kitchenware or anything else you no longer need, it’s worth asking friends and family if there is anything they need. Often when I’ve moved countries, I have donated most of my old kitchen stuff, bedding etc to a friend setting up their place.

    If you have people in your life with hoarding tendencies, I would recommend to not give them anything, unless it’s to replace an item that is broken or no longer working. It’s not your responsibility to manage other people’s choices, but hoarding is a difficult pattern to break, and you can help a little by not bringing more stuff into their home.

    Please don’t just bring your stuff over and force people to take your old stuff if they have not asked for it, make sure to ask them first and don’t just dump your clutter onto someone else!

  5. Donate responsibly
    Once you’ve checked with people in your life, feel free to donate most of the remaining things. Remember to only donate clothes, furniture and other items to charity that are in good condition to be worn or used. Otherwise you’re creating unnecessary work for the charity shop to go through your old stained t-shirts and chipped kitchenware. You can always call your local charity before you head down there and double check what sort of donations they accept.

    Old socks can be recycled via organisations like this instead of going to landfill. Shops like H&M and Zara in Australia accept clothes in any condition to be recycled through them, instead of going to landfill. Old towels and blankets can often be donated to a local vet clinic or animal shelter. Some non expired food items (especially canned things) and hygiene products can be donated to local charities who support disadvantaged people in the community. Google is your friend here, so just look up what you can donate in your local area.

  6. Always recycle what you can
    Every city and country is different, but there are some things that should NEVER go in your garbage bin! Electronics, paint, old mattresses and batteries are things you can normally drop for free or a small cost at your local recycling centre. Your normal recycling like metal, paper/cardboard, glass and plastic can naturally be recycled in most places (just check the plastic packaging to see if it has a recycling symbol on it). Soft plastic/plastic bags usually need to be taken to designated spots for collection.

  7. Learn from what you have to throw away
    Some things that are broken, stained or expired products will need to be thrown out in the trash and that’s ok. If you’ve gone through the above steps, there should be far less trash than it could have been otherwise.

    Depending how much trash and recycling you accumulate through this challenge you might need to divide it up over a few weeks to fit in your bin. After a declutter it can be difficult to look at all the waste you find in your home, but use this as a learning for the future and don’t beat yourself up about it! By being honest with ourselves we can do better in the future.

Keen to get started? Keep an eye out for my 7 step declutter coming out soon!

The easiest way to organise your life in 2020

Every year I choose a theme or keyword for that year and for 2020 my theme is creativity. Having a key theme for your year or month is a great way to start keeping things simple and focused.

Years ago, I used to blog about my travels and life in Australia, but as life and work got busy, that creative writing fell away. So I decided to pick it back up again and hold myself accountable to not just thinking about creativity, but sharing it as well. Check out my first YouTube video here if you’re curious to listen in.

So, what about that key question? How do I simplify my life in 2020 and beyond? My answer would be to welcome simplicity into your life. This is not going to happen overnight, but it’s been the most helpful tool for me over the past few years. I find that it’s best to approach simplicity from 2 angles:

  1. To simplify things is a way of life. It’s asking yourself some basic questions as you encounter clutter, noise, decisions and other things in your day to day life. Some of those helpful questions might be “How important is this for me and those I love?” or “Is this something I should be focusing on right now?“.
  2. Simplification is also a helpful process. It’s about looking at different areas of your life (ideally one at a time) and clearing out, organising and nurturing the parts of your life that needs some extra attention.

My partner Paul and I have both been on the simplification / minimalism / essentialism journey for a few years now, and I’ve noticed that I have worked through both of the above approaches in tandem during most of that time.

Here in my blog and YouTube videos you will find that the underlying theme will always be simplicity. Each week I’ll unpack a particular tool that will help you get more organised, have more clarity and simply get down to what’s really important.

The key themes you’ll see coming back are:

  • Budgeting and finance. We need to know our finances well to know what we have as well as what we want going forward.
  • Organisation and structure. This covers home, digital, calendars and a bunch of other things. When we organise our physical and digital space our mind tends to settle a bit.
  • Health and well-being. This is key for a happy life if you ask me, without our health it does not matter how rich we are. In this area we’ll cover meal prep, exercise, mental well being and mindset. I’ve worked as a coach for many years, so I’ve got lots to share here!
  • Travel, expat life and exploring. I moved away from my native Sweden in 2007 and had travelled lots before that as well. To travel and explore is something my partner and I love, and I’ll share some of our adventures and plans with you here too.
  • Sustainability and environment. To try and reduce my footprint on this planet is key for me. There are so many ways to achieve that with day to day decisions, from how we grocery shop to how we dress or travel.

In a world where so many people feel lonely, let’s share that journey to simplify (including the many obstacles it comes with!) and slowly improve together. I’m only human and I’d like to share the things I’ve learned and implemented in my life with you if you’d like to join in!